By Neil Wood.
With a race called the Tommy Godwin Memorial, you know it’s never going to be easy. Tommy Godwin is a name that conjures up images of physical and mental endurance that very few humans are able to achieve. This is not an exaggeration since Tommy Godwin’s 1939 record of cycling just over 75,000 miles in one year has yet to be broken, even in the days of sat nav, lightweight frames, better wheels, more than the four gears that Tommy used, better roads, and better nutrition than Tommy’s meagre war time diet. The average of 205 miles per day is difficult enough for most cyclists to get through. But every day for a year, is an achievement that propelled Tommy Godwin to the heights of cycling folklore.
The race on Sunday was in Bearley, a picturesque village just to the north of Statford on Avon. Its absolutely pan flat round there isn’t it? Wrong. It’s a challenging course with the start and finish line on a one mile drag, plus one more notable steep climb with two or three more sharp kicks that are able to sort the men from the boys. These all exist in the first half of the 8 mile circuit. The second half has the welcoming descents and long flats. However whatever you have got left in the legs after the first hilly part, needs to be conserved wisely as 4 miles of descents and gentle flats pass all too quickly and before you know it you are on the first climb again.
Graham and myself are taking part in the LRVC (veterans) Percy Stallard series of races. I am a C category and Graham a D category, so there are two category races which are started off at the same time. This effectively means there are two races going on in a single event. It’s a system works well for Graham and myself as we are in different races, but still able to work together as a team. Graham is fresh out of his win form the LRVC National Champions road race, and whilst most people would wear their champs jersey with pride, Graham thought better of it as it would make him a bit conspicuous meaning he would be a marked man.
We had a good idea of the course as we did a two lap recce ride the previous night. After our last escapade in the Claydons Spring Classic, myself and Graham were in a two man break got sent the wrong way by a marshal as he never made himself visible to us and never even saw us approaching as he was eating a sandwich and talking to his mate, so we missed the left turn. We were determined that this mistake was never to be repeated, so made good mental notes of the landmarks at the left hand turns. On one of these turns we saw two men repairing a pot hole in the road. On our second lap of the recce they were still there, so we stopped to talk to them. The men were Ian Cowan, who is the race organiser with one of his club mates from Solihull with a big bag of instant lay tarmacadam, spades, and tampers doing a job that would put the council to shame. We were hugely impressed with this level commitment to the race organisation. Come race day, this level organisation was clearly demonstrated with an event that ran seamlessly to perfection.
Both myself and Graham did a lot of work at the front early as two men got away. It seemed that we were the only ones working at times, so in an effort to conserve energy, at points, we simply sopped pedalling and refused to work. This much work early on was to have an effect on us later in the race. The second lap the attacks started to appear. There are some highly competitive and tough riders in the race including three time Percy Stallard winner Steve Wilkinson, current National Champion in C category Ritchie Edwards who also won the Tour of the Abberleys a couple of weeks earlier. Also perennial veteran winners, Rob O’Connor, and Steve Twelves who was second in the National Champions. These were the guys who put in huge attacks on the climbs. The attacks were shrewd and indicative of a lot of racing experience. They usually came about two thirds of the way up the climbs. This was because most people had started to tire at this point, so the sprint up the last third trying to keep with the attack tired them out even more. At the top of the climb, when the attackers realised they hadn’t got away, they slowed right down, moved over and allowed the bunch to get to the front, catch their breath, just ready for the next climb. It was a way of slowly but surely grinding down the competition and riders were subsequently being shelled off the back.
On the sixth and final lap, things started to get a bit more hectic and Graham and myself paid the price for our earlier efforts as the attack on the first climb of one mile saw us lose the wheels of attackers and several of these strong climbers got a gap from the bunch. Digging in even harder me and Graham tried chasing them down, but we had our work cut out as this was the first climb and there was three more miles of climb after climb. We got away from the chasing bunch with about five others. That got whittled down to four after a couple of minutes. A car decided to turn right into a garden centre, braked at the last moment and never indicated, so some sudden braking to avoid going in the back of the said car was needed. I managed to shout a warning to the riders behind me with a ubiquitous “Woah”!!! However it was too late for one rider. Mike Amery, the organiser of the National Champions ran into the back of me. I went into a wobble for a few hair raising seconds but managed to stay upright, but then I heard the inevitable and sickening sound of bike and person hitting tarmac behind me. I spoke to mike at the end of the race, he was shaken up, plenty of road rash, but no serious damage. I know this as he still managed to get some cake down him.
We caught one of the riders who got away, who had done a bit too much work on the attack and blown up. I tried to get him to join us, as it was just me, Graham and another rider from Kidderminster left chasing and I thought with four we could still catch the leaders. No such luck. After we all did a few turns, about 5 minutes later I realised it was only me and Graham working. I looked around and the other two were nowhere to be seen. We had three to four miles to go and myself and Graham worked together but were not able to catch the leaders. I put in some big efforts on the flats and Graham worked the hills as he is a better climber than me. We worked well as a team and, nobody from the chasing bunch caught us.
In the end it was a great result for Graham and he came 3rd in his category as most of the leaders were my category and from my calculations estimated that I got 10th in my category. In all it was a successful day. We worked really hard, it was a long way to go but we made a proper race of it.
Racing is pretty tough so we decided to stop in the fast lane on the M6 to stretch our legs. We caused a bit of a hold up and the other drivers were pretty angry with us but they have absolutely no idea who we are, or what we have been through!
Many thanks to Ian Cowan, the racer organiser, his mate from Solihull RC who was helping fix the pothole, I never got his name. The marshals and the lovely ladies serving tea and cakes.